How Do You Say ‘Quickie’ in French?


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Power, as Henry Kissinger gloated, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. At
his star’s highest point in 1810 — he was then aged 41 — the Emperor
Napoleon was the master of continental Europe, with 44 million people
under his control. Then, in a moment of candor, he confessed to an aide
that he had done it all not for glory, patriotism, or ego, but for
love: As the world’s most powerful man, he could sleep with any woman
he desired.

In the Emperor’s bedroom, however, the reviews were mixed. Just as
he indifferently bolted down his food, paid no attention to his
clothes, and could be self-absorbed and distracted in conversation,
Napoleon’s romantic style, admits one otherwise admiring biographer,
was “anything but endearing.” A description by the author Stendahl,
backed up by members of Napoleon’s staff, describes his “brutally
abrupt” bedside manner at the height of his power. The Emperor would
work late, signing decrees. “When a lady was announced, he would
request her — without looking up from his worktable — to go and wait
for him in bed.  Later, with a candlestick in his hand, he would show
her out of the bedroom, and then promptly go back to his table to
continue reading, correcting and signing those endless decrees. The
essential part of the rendezvous had not lasted three minutes…  To
dismiss these gallant visitors after a mere three minutes of his time,
to go on signing decrees, and often without so much as unbuckling his
sword, struck these ladies as an outrageous procedure…”

Napoleon’s arch-enemy, the Duke of Wellington, was another famous
lady’s man. After winning the battle of Waterloo in 1815, Wellington
was feted in Paris, even sharing the bed of several of Napoleon’s
former mistresses. One, the actress Mademoiselle Georges (whose real
name was Marguerite-Josephine Weimer), was asked at a dinner to compare
the two. “Ah, sir,” she replied, “the Duke was by far the more

SOURCE/FURTHER READING: Bruce, Evangeline, Napoleon and Josephine: the Improbable Marriage (New York, 1995); Bryant, Julius, Apsley House: The Wellington Collection, (London, 2005).

Footnote: An Innocent Abroad

According to his own report, Napoleon’s much-studied love life began
in Paris’ Palais Royale, a former royal palace that became the
18th-century’s most debauched entertainment venue. It was a few months
before the Revolution in November, 1787, when the 18-year-old
lieutenant lost his virginity to one of the innumerable prostitutes
there. On a freezing night, he recalls approaching her and plying her
with questions: Wasn’t she cold? How did she come to Paris?  How did
she lose her virginity? Evidently guessing the situation, the woman
finally said: “Let’s go to your place… We’ll get warm… Come on. You’ll
have great pleasure.”

Unlike many of his peers, the young Corsican officer did not have a
mistress, but continued to frequent Paris’ ladies of the night,
awkwardly making conversation about where they had bought their dresses
before finally popping the question. He was still sexually anxious
when, as a prominent young general, he fell in love with an older
woman-of-the-world and Caribbean-born belle, Josephine, eight years
later and began their famously tumultuous relationship. • 25 January 2010

SOURCE/FURTHER READING: Hibbert, Christopher: Napoleon: His Wives and Women (New York, 2002).


Tony Perrottet's book, Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped, is a literary version of a cabinet of curiosities (HarperCollins, 2008; He is also the author of Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games.